Donate to Links

Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

GLW Radio on 3CR


Syndicate content

“Dialectical materialism,” ideology and revisionism



By Jason Devine

September 9, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — As I have extensively argued elsewhere, “dialectical materialism” as the philosophy of Marxism does not exist.[1] Indeed, when Marx listed in his famous letter to Joseph Weydemeyer what he felt and understood to be his scientific contributions, dialectical materialism as a name, concept, and system was conspicuously missing.[2] Further, when Engels spoke at Marx’s graveside he mentioned Marx’s scientific discoveries, but at no point did he mention dialectical materialism as a name, concept, or system.[3] This is no surprise as the phrase “dialectical materialism” was never used by Marx or Engels and hence appears nowhere in their entire oeuvre, either published or unpublished. Indeed, Marx developed a new scientific method, not a system.[4]


However, not merely is “dialectical materialism” not a product of Marx and Engels, but it is also a revisionist concept. More specifically, the phrase originated in the work Joseph Dietzgen and was later developed and pioneered by Georgi Plehanov. Thanks to the machinations of Eduard Bernstein, in his fight to revise Marxism, the latter was labelled a philosophy and hence an ideology, with dialectical materialism serving as its codified term. In rejecting the idea that Marx and Engels created a new philosophy, a new ideology, rather than a novel scientific method, the term itself, and what it represents, must be rejected.


The phrase “dialectical materialism” was first coined by the German socialist Joseph Dietzgen in 1887 in his work Excursions of a Socialist into the Domain of Epistemology. In that work he asserted that, “Because the idealist perversity in its last representatives, namely Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, was thoroughly German, its issue, dialectical materialism, is also a pre-eminently German product.”[5] Further, he referred to dialectical materialism as the “substantiated mode of thinking of Social-Democracy,” viz. the philosophy of German Social Democracy.[6] Thus, not merely did the term appear only after Marx’s death, but it is Dietzgenist and not Marxist in derivation.


I have not seen any compelling argument, let alone any single explicit argument, for why the phrase “dialectical materialism” is absolutely necessary for Marxists. In fact its use is largely based on sheer tradition. However, Plekhanov himself argued that Dietzgen was very intelligent, but did not add one whit to Marxism and so he advised that one should read Marx before Dietzgen, so as to lessen any confusion on the part of the student.[7] Thus, since Dietzgen made no theoretical innovations, why should Marxists accept his terminological innovation? Should it be accepted just because Lenin accepted it, even though Lenin clearly never realised that an innovation had been made? Those are truly weak grounds and this points to one of the core problems with most introductions to Marx’s method in the realm of Marxist education: a basic appeal to tradition and authority. Not only is it a logical fallacy, but it is contrary to the dialectic.


Dietzgen did not merely come up with the term “dialectical materialism”, but he also developed it into the form of a philosophy over the course of a number of works. These he hastened to share with Marx. As Marx told Dr. Kugelmann:


Quite a while ago he sent me a fragment of a manuscript on ‘intellectual capacity’, which, despite a certain confusion and too frequent repetitions, contained much that was excellent, and — as the independent product of a worker — even admirable.[8]


Upon finishing reading the work Marx sent the manuscript, with comments to Engels and asked for his opinion. Here, in full, is his reply to Marx:


It is difficult to come to an absolutely definite judgment about the thing [Dietzgen's manuscript]. As a philosopher the man is no child of nature, and added to that is only half self-taught. Some of his sources (e.g., Feuerbach, your book, and various rubbishy popular works on natural science) can be immediately recognised from his terminology, but one cannot tell what else he has read. His terminology is of course still very confused--hence there is a lack of sharpness and frequent repetition in new terms. There is also some dialectic in it, but appearing more in flashes than as a connected whole. The account of the thing-in-itself as Gedankending [thing made of thought] would be very nice and even brilliant if one could be sure that he had discovered it for himself. There is a lot of wit and, despite the lack of grammar, a marked talent for style. On the whole, a remarkable instinct for arguing out so much correctly with such deficient preliminary training.


As I said, the repetitions are the result partly of the deficient terminology and partly of unfamiliarity with the discipline of logic. It will be very hard to get them all out. If the man absolutely insists on having his things printed I am not sure that to limit him to two printer's sheets would be the best for him — in any case it would give him the devil's own job as he is not conscious of his repetitions, and then I am not sure either whether two sheets would get any attention paid them at all. More likely six to eight. And he will never get it into a periodical.[9]


Engels repeated the essence of his critique later in a 1886 letter to Friedrich Sorge:


But neither can I support Dietzgen in his article on the anarchists — he has a peculiar way of dealing with things. If someone has a perhaps somewhat narrow opinion on a certain point, Dietzgen cannot emphasize enough, and often too much, that the thing has two sides. But now, because the New Yorkers are behaving contemptibly, he suddenly takes the other side and wants to picture us all as anarchists. The moment may excuse this, but he shouldn’t forget all his dialectics at the decisive moment.[10]


Dietzgen did not have a subtle, developed understanding of the dialectic method, and in fact he frequently took this “On the one hand and on the other hand” approach. He saw dialectical materialism itself as a synthesis, as a combining of materialism and idealism. As Dietzgen stated in his “Letters on Logic”:“The thousand year old dispute between materialist and idealists turns on the question whether the spirit is material or the world spiritual. Our answer is plain and clear: They both belong together, they together make up the one thing, the thing of all things.”[11] This was from his Tenth Letter, his Eighth Letter provides even more examples.[12]


That was not, though, what Marx's method was: his was of sublimation, totality, and the movement from the abstract towards the concrete.[13] Dietzgen had no understanding of the latter, but was mired in a simplistic shift of opposites; a movement barely distinguishable from such ancient dialectics as the yin and yang of the Tao Te Ching.[14] In fact, Dietzgen’s method had already been developed by Proudhon and critiqued by Marx:


For him, M. Proudhon, every economic category has two sides – one good, the other bad. He looks upon these categories as the petty bourgeois looks upon the great men of history: Napoleon was a great man; he did a lot of good; he also did a lot of harm. The good side and the bad side, the advantages and drawbacks, taken together form for M. Proudhon the contradiction in every economic category…M. Proudhon has nothing of Hegel's dialectics but the language. For him the dialectic movement is the dogmatic distinction between good and bad.[15]


Such an alteration between two opposed points is only dialectical formally, not substantively. Thus, Dietzgen’s philosophy, his “dialectical materialism,” was clearly not the same as Marx's scientific socialism, as his dialectical method.


However, in the same year that Engels wrote to Sorge, he also wrote and published his Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. It is here where he writes of Dietzgen in passing and in fulsome praise, so fulsome it looks almost like a reversal of his private estimation of the man: “And this materialist dialectic, which for years has been our best working tool and our sharpest weapon, was, remarkably enough, discovered not only by us but also, independently of us and even of Hegel, by a German worker, Joseph Dietzgen.”[16] Now any study of Marx's and Dietzgen works will clearly show that this is not true. Further, Dietzgen fully admitted the influence of Marx on him. As he stated in his Excursions pamphlet:


While on search I came across Ludwig Feuerbach, and the diligent study of his writings gave me a good push forward. Of still greater help in my thirst for knowledge was the Communist Manifesto, which I got to know through the newspapers on the occasion of the trial of the Communists at Cologne (1849). Most of all, however, I owe, after a number of old philosophical volumes had in the meanwhile appeared in my rural life, to the work of Marx which appeared in 1859 under the title: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. There it is stated in the preface that the way – so approximately runs the sentence – in which man earns his daily bread, that the level of civilisation on which a generation physically works, determines the mental standpoint or the way in which it conceives and must conceive the True, the Good and Right, God, Freedom and Immortality, Philosophy, Politics and Law...


If I had been the first to moot these questions and to exhibit the thirst for the absolute truth, I would have been the fool to wait for an answer in all eternity. The fact, however, that I was not left such a fool, but received a sufficient answer, is due to the historical development of things which made me put the questions at a time when after a long series of preceding generations the best minds had occupied themselves with their solution and could already supply me with such elucidation as I obtained, in point of fact, from Feuerbach and Marx. What I mean to say by this is, the light which those men gave me was not merely the product of these individuals, but it was the common product of culture older than the historical times.[17]


Dietzgen's first work was The Nature of Human Brain-Work and it was published in 1869, far after Marx had developed his dialectic method and written about it publicly in his Contribution to a Critique (1859) and Capital (1867). Since Dietzgen publicly admitted that he developed under the influence of Marx, why did Engels write such praise, the origin of the claim that Dietzgen came to Marx's viewpoint independently? I do not know but, in light of the facts, Engels was certainly exaggerating in his praise to the point of being incorrect.


There is also the testimony of the man who was considered the “Pope of Marxism” viz. Karl Kautsky who was the teacher of most of the Marxists of the Second International, save for maybe the US socialist Daniel De Leon. In Kautsky’s Ethics and the Materialist Conception Of History (1906) he states that, “I take as my starting point, consequently, that materialist philosophy which was founded on one side by Marx and Engels, on the other, though in the same spirit, by Joseph Dietzgen. For the results at which I have arrived I alone am responsible.”[18] Here he openly stated that his understanding of the Marxist method was from Marx, Engels, and Dietzgen. Lenin studied this work of Kautsky’s as he listed it in the bibliography to his expansive 1914 article “Karl Marx” for the Granat Encyclopedia: “On the question of historical materialism and ethics: Karl Kautsky, Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History, St. Petersburg, 1906, and numerous other works by Kautsky.”[19] Hence, Lenin's early understanding of “dialectical materialism” came from Dietzgen via Plekhanov and Kautsky. The two arch-revisionist-opportunists who disfigured Marxism after Bernstein.


This question of the philosophy of “dialectical materialism” is intimately intertwined with the question of ideology. First, as I have argued, Marx and Engels stated they were founding a new scientific method and that this was in opposition to philosophy as the latter was an ideology. This is most clearly stated in The German Ideology and was continued to be upheld by Marx and Engels for the rest of their lives. Second, as already noted, Lenin never read The German Ideology and thus never had the chance to read the full critique. Hence, he never fully understood the Marxist critique of philosophy and ideology.[20] Further, it was not just not just Lenin, but also Plehanov and Dietzgen, Lenin’s two main teachers in “philosophy,” as well who never read it. The reason for this was that the manuscript was held by Bernstein who never translated the first crucial part comprising the critique of Feuerbach, the Young Hegelians, and ideology in general. He only produced snippets of the critique of Stirner viz. the the second part of the book.[21] This is sharply detailed in an article by the man who first published the work and whose name disappeared from all subsequent Soviet editions, the Bolshevik archivist and founder of the Marx-Engels Institute, David Riazanov. Here he details his problems in getting a hold of Marx-Engels manuscripts from Bernstein:


My troubles began in Berlin. I had to fairly wrest the material from its possessor, Bernstein. All the documents lent out by him were photographed. The publication of several documents was made dependent on special conditions. The most valuable and interesting among the documents found, and till now unpublished, is the MSS. of the “German Ideology,” with a criticism of German philosophy after Hegel, and of the “True Socialists.”


By a comparison of the MSS. with the Bernstein edition, it became evident that the latter contains not more than two-fifths of the MSS. As an excuse for this Bernstein stated: “The mice had nibbled away the rest.” As a matter of fact, the MSS. had not been nibbled by mice but by Bernstein when he finally went over to Revisionism. But this manuscript is only a part of the critique of “German Ideology,” and of that part which contains the critique of Stirner. The second part of the MSS. undeciphered by Bernstein, is dedicated to Feuerbach and contains a criticism of Feuerbach’s-conception of “Man.” We are endeavouring to publish this manuscript as soon as possible.[22]


Upon reading this the reader might wonder, why did Bernstein lie and not publish the full manuscript of The German Ideology?


The reason is because Eduard Bernstein was the first to argue that there was a Marxist ideology viz. that it itself was an ideology.[23] This move was, in fact, a part of his revisionist project. As he stated in the conclusion to his Evolutionary Socialism, speaking on the revisionist controversy:


And in this mind, I, at the time, resorted to the spirit of the great Königsberg philosopher, the critic of pure reason, against the cant which sought to get a hold on the working class movement and to which the Hegelian dialectic offers a comfortable refuge. I did this in the conviction that social democracy required a Kant who should judge the received opinion and examine it critically with deep acuteness, who should show where its apparent materialism is the highest – and is therefore the most easily misleading – ideology, and warn it that the contempt of the ideal, the magnifying of material factors until they become omnipotent forces of evolution, is a self-deception, which has been and will be exposed as such at every opportunity by the action of those who proclaim it.[24]


Bernstein wanted to change the standpoint of the SPD, to revise it, and he did that by adulterating Marxism with Kant's philosophy. Bernstein was against Marx’s dialectic and largely equated it with Hegel’s dialectic. To justify introducing an alien ideology into Marxism he suppressed the Marxian critique of ideology and declared Marxism to be a philosophy, an ideology.


First, by calling Marxism an ideology Bernstein was able to argue that Marxism was lacking in morals. Here he was slurring over the different meanings of the term “ideal.” Not merely was he attacking Hegel and the dialectic, he was arguing that socialism was not scientific and lacked morality. When the word “ideal” appears in the context of discussing dialectics, its meaning is generally that of idealism or of the subjective vis-a-vis the objective i.e. thoughts. Bernstein, however, meant it as “an ideal” viz. something to attain, a moral ideal. To describe Marxism a science Bernstein would have had to agree that there was no ethical basis to the Marxist method (as opposed to its ethical implications), thus no question of adding an ethics. But, by calling it an ideology, he could claim it was an insufficient ideology viz. one downplaying the need for morality, hence the need for Kant and thus the categorical imperative. So he had to call Marxism an ideology. According to Martin Seliger, Bernstein argued, along with Antonio Labriola and Bendetto Croce, that Marxism should not be called scientific socialism, but critical communism.[25]


Second, Bernstein legitimated this move because by denying the scientific specificity of Marxism he reduced Marxism i.e. by reducing it to one philosophy among others. So while Dietzgen first introduced the idea of Marxism as the philosophy of dialectical materialism, Bernstein later developed the idea that Marxism was an ideology. This was because he equated ideology and philosophy, and held Marxism a philosophy:


Marx presents the general features of his philosophy of history and society in such concise and decisive sentences, so free from all reference to special phenomena and special forms, as has never been found elsewhere with equal clearness. No important thought concerning the Marxist philosophy of history is wanting there.[26]


Bernstein wrote this despite what Engels had written in his Anti-Dühring that with the development of Marx’s method, “That which still survives, independently, of all earlier philosophy is the science of thought and its laws — formal logic and dialectics. Everything else is subsumed in the positive science of nature and history.”[27] Engels repeated this same idea in his work on Ludwig Feuerbach where he argued regarding “the Marxist conception of history” viz. that this conception, however, puts an end to philosophy in the realm of history, just as the dialectical conception of nature makes all natural philosophy both unnecessary and impossible.”[28] Hence, Bernstein’s revision of Marxism as an ideology and philosophy was an attack on Marxism’s scientific character.


Bernstein’s attack on scientific socialism was also implicitly an attack on the objectivity of the dialectic. For in denying the objective truth value of Marx’s dialectical method, he was also denying the ability of that method to aid humanity in grasping reality itself. Hegel was the first to systematically argue for the objectivity of the dialectic:


Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite.[29]


This understanding of the dialectic was rightfully later continued by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao.[30] So, when later anti-revisionist Marxists denied the dialectics of nature, they actually merely repeated Bernstein and reverted to key aspect of revisionism.[31] Despite the fact that Bernstein’s writing was criticised by Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Plekhanov, Kautsky, and many others, no one actually criticised his views on ideology in the revisionist debate, simply because they did not have access to The German Ideology.[32] This is, of course, because during the time of the debate he had it under lock and key. Thus, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Lenin and the rest were in the dark. For example, Plekhanov in his article “Cant Against Kant or Herr Bernstein’s Will and Testament,” gives an able defense and counter-attack against Bernstein’s anti-dialectical position. To quote Plekhanov,


To turn from a utopia into a science, socialism had to outgrow this device in thinking, and rise to the dialectical method. It was Marx and Engels who carried out this necessary reform in socialism: however, they could do so only because they had previously gone through the school of Hegelian philosophy.[33]


This assertion is incontestably true. Despite this, however, Plekhanov still held the position that Marxism was a philosophy and thus an ideology.[34] This aspect of the distortion of Marxism by a leader of the Second International was never addressed by the Bolsheviks in their return to revolutionary Marxism, in their salvaging operation; the most famous example of this operation being Lenin’s The State and Revolution.


This omission was further compounded by the institutionalisation and codification of Marxism-Leninism in the USSR. An aspect of this was that Lenin was rarely criticised as wrong after his death. Yet, in light of The German Ideology, this presented a problem for Soviet Marxists viz. Marx and Engels had said ideology was incorrect because it was a distortion in humanity’s understanding of reality, a misunderstanding arising out of the conditions of society viz. low development of productive forces and science, control by the ruling class, etc. However, Lenin said that there was a scientific ideology and that Marxism was such an ideology.[35} How could this logical contradiction be resolved? How could one square the circle?


Instead of interrogating the roots of Lenin’s views on this question, and thus admitting that they were of revisionist origin and, hence, that he was wrong, generations of Soviet intellectuals took two different routes. The first was that they could just ignore the issue and leave out any examination of The German Ideology whatsoever.[36] The second was that they argued that Marx and Engels lived in a period before mass working-class parties and therefore their critique of ideology was true only until the rise of those parties. A representative example of this approach is an article written by the Soviet philosopher, V. Z. Kelle in the collection Philosophy in the USSR: Problems of Dialectical Materialism, the only explicit attempt I know of to square the circle. There he openly argues that with the rise of such parties, Marxism became a scientific ideology.[37]


A part of Kelle’s method is that he in fact only refers to The German Ideology, not to any of Marx or Engels later repeated pronouncements about philosophy being an ideology and their method being a science of history, i.e. social and natural history. Why did Kelle do this? It is because it contradicts the main crux of his argument. However, when Engels wrote his Ludwig Feuerbach the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) was already a mass party; Kelle thus implied that Engels was wrong. But clearly Engels was right and Kelle wrong. Also, Kelle’s article pays no attention to Bernstein’s role in developing the understanding of ideology during the time of the Second International.


Ideology, whether in its political, religious, or philosophic forms, is the distorted view of reality arising out of the contradictions of society. These are the conceptual forms out in which the class struggle is fought out. As Engels stated in his Peasant War in Germany:


If, nevertheless, the Zimmermann representation lacks internal coherence; if it does not succeed in showing the religious and political controversies of that epoch as a reflection of the class struggles that were taking place simultaneously…This book, while giving the historic course of the struggle only in its outlines, undertakes to explain the origin of the peasant wars, the attitude of the various parties which appear in the war, the political and religious theories through which those parties strove to make clear to themselves their position.[38]


Hence, these various ideologies are a product of socio-economic conditions, but people do not consciously derive them from those conditions. Instead of explaining their ideas by their conditions, they explain their conditions by their ideas. This is why they are false consciousness.[39]


Only with Marxism, with the dialectic method i.e. historical materialism is the possibility of reversing this situation created. Thus the proletariat does not define and explain reality according to any axioms or principles, but studies actual concrete conditions with the aid of a method which itself is based and judged according to reality. This is the core of the difference between utopian and scientific socialism. As Marx and Engels stated in The German Ideology:


Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.[40]


The idea that Marxism is an ideology was crucial to the ideology of Social Democracy, the Marxism of the Second International, and later of the USSR’s codified Marxism-Leninism, in the form of “dialectical materialism.” It ties socialists down to a perspective which views reality according to pre-determined axioms, to a closed system.


This can be seen in the above-mentioned case of Plekhanov. He had been in the frontline of the fight against Bernstein and the revisionist current in international Social Democracy. In these early years, he successfully popularised dialectical thinking for an entire generation of Russian Marxists in the fight against Narodnism and revisionism.[41] However, his adherence to “dialectical materialism,” to Marxism as a system, led him to the position in the 1905 Russian Revolution that


Genuine class consciousness…also required recognition of the limits placed on social change by the country’s level of economic development. Accordingly the Social Democrats had the duty of inculcating in the proletariat awareness that Russia was ripe only for a ‘bourgeois revolution,’ and the folly of attempting to go beyond that stage.[42]


Thus he opposed the Bolshevik’s political line and tactics in 1905. Even more so, for the same basic reason, he would later oppose the 1917 October Revolution: according to the orthodox Second International understanding of Marxism, Russia was not ready for revolution.[43] Thus, if Marxists miss the point about ideology in general, and hence also that philosophy is a specific form of ideology, they will miss the crucial achievement made by Marx viz. that he founded a new scientific method. Further, they will be unable to fully appreciate the essence and origin of the latter: that it was developed and forged in a critique of ideology and hence includes that critique as an inherent fundamental component. Finally, to continue to hold that Marxism is or has a philosophy termed “dialectical materialism,” is to reproduce an aspect of the revisionist views of Bernstein and a label that neither Marx nor Engels formulated or endorsed. A consistent break with revisionism means a consistent break with the philosophical system of “dialectical materialism” and a turn to Marx’s dialectical method.




[1] Jason Devine, “On the “Philosophy” of “Dialectical Materialism”,” accessed 23 August 2016, node/4667. [2] Karl Marx, “Marx to Weydemeyer,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Correspondence 1846-1895, A Selection with Commentary and Notes (New York: International Publishers, 1936), 57.


[3] Frederick Engels, “Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 429-430.


[4] “Value. According to Mr. Wagner, Marx's theory of value is the “cornerstone of his socialist system” (p. 45). Since I have never established a “socialist system,” this is a fantasy of Wagner, Schäffle e tutti quanti.” Karl Marx, “Notes on Adolph Wagner's “Lehrbuch der politischen Ökonomie” (Second Edition), Volume I, 1879,” accessed 25 August 2016,


[5] Joseph Dietzgen, “Excursions of a Socialist into the Domain of Epistemology,” accessed 23 August 2016, http://


[6] Ibid.


[7] “We advise reading Joseph Dietzgen only after the most careful study of Marx’s philosophy. It will then be easier to see how he approximates in his teaching to the founders of scientific socialism, and where he has to yield ground to them, lags behind them. Otherwise, reading Joseph Dietzgen will give the reader, together with not unimportant and not uninteresting, but in no way new, details, much and harmful confusion.” Georgi Plekhanov, “Joseph Dietzgen,” accessed 24 August 2016,


[8] Karl Marx, Letters to Dr. Kugelmann (London: Martin Lawrence, n.d.), 80.


[9] Friedrich Engels, “Engels to Marx,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Correspondence 1846-1895, A Selection with Commentary and Notes (New York: International Publishers, 1936), 251-252.


[10] Frederick Engels, “Engels to Sorge,” accessed 24 August 2016, /works/ 1886/letters/86_09_16.htm.


[11] Joseph Dietzgen, “Letters on Logic: Especially Democratic-Proletarian Logic,” in The Positive Outcome of Philosophy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1906), 234.


[12] Ibid., 220-222.


[13] Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1971), 10, 15, 27; E.V. Ilyenkov, The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), 165-166, 167.


[14] August Thalheimer, Introduction to Dialectical Materialism: The Marxist World-View (New York: Covici Friede, 1935), 232-233.


[15] Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy: Answer to the Philosophy of Poverty by M. Proudhon (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), 103, 105.


[16] Frederick Engels, “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 609.


[17] Joseph Dietzgen, “Excursions of a Socialist into the Domain of Epistemology,” accessed 23 August 2016,; “Already in my early youth, when I was able to suspect rather than to understand the extremely rich content of your writings, I was held spellbound by them and I could not refrain from reading and re-reading them until I had made them properly clear to myself. The enthusiasm aroused in me now by the work of yours which has recently been published in Hamburg impels me to what is perhaps the importunate audacity of desiring to assure you of my acknowledgment, admiration and thankfulness. I had studied earlier the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Part I, when it appeared in Berlin, with great diligence and I confess that no book, however voluminous, has furnished me with so much new positive knowledge and instruction as this small work.” Joseph Dietzgen, “Letter to Marx, October 24, 1867” in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr. Kugelmann (London: Martin Lawrence, n.d.), 56.


[18] Karl Kautsky, “Ethics and the Materialist Conception Of History,” accessed 24 August 2016, https://www.


[19] V.I. Lenin, “Karl Marx: A Brief Biographical Sketch With an Exposition of Marxism,” accessed 24 August 2016,


[20] Jason Devine, “On the “Philosophy” of “Dialectical Materialism”,” accessed 24 August 2016, node/4667.


[21] In regards to Bernstein's suppression of The German Ideology, it is known that Kautsky did a similar thing in later years with the manuscript of the Theories of Surplus-Value: editing, or rather mangling it and removing revolutionary aspects of the writing to fit his own anti-Marxist social-democratic, revisionist views. However, the selective editing/suppression of Marx’s and Engels’ writings started even earlier, while Engels was still alive. At that time the leadership of the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) suppressed the original text of Engels’ 1895 introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 in order to support their opportunism. See: Ernest Mandel, “Rosa Luxemburg and German Social Democracy,” in Ernest Mandel, Revolutionary Marxism and Social Reality in the 20th Century: Collected Essays, Stephen Bloom ed. (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1994), 33-34.


[22] David Riazanov, “The Posthumous Writings of Marx and Engels,” accessed 24 August 2016, https://www.


[23] Jorge Larrain, “Ideology,” in Tom Bottomore ed. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 221.


[24] Eduard Bernstein, “Evolutionary Socialism,” accessed 24 August 2016, archive/bernstein/works/1899/evsoc/ch04-conc.htm.


[25] Martin Seliger, The Marxist Conception of Ideology: A Critical Essay (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 101.


[26] Eduard Bernstein, “Evolutionary Socialism,” accessed 24 August 2016, archive/bernstein/works/1899/evsoc/ch01.htm.


[27] Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 36.


[28] Frederick Engels, “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 620.


[29] G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel's Logic: Being Part One of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), William Wallace tr. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 118.


[30] “The possessor of money or commodities actually turns into a capitalist in such cases only where the minimum sum advanced for production greatly exceeds the maximum of the middle ages. Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his “Logic”), that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes.” Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1983), 292; “The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them…Moreover, anyone who is even only slightly acquainted with his Hegel will be aware that in hundreds of passages Hegel is capable of giving the most striking individual illustrations from nature and history of the dialectical laws. We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics, but only with showing that the dialectical laws are really laws of development of nature, and therefore are valid also for theoretical natural science.” Frederick Engels, Dialectics of Nature (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1966), 62-63; “In mathematics: + and —. Differential and integral. In mechanics: action and reaction. In physics: positive and negative electricity. In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms. In social science: the class struggle.” V.I. Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics,” in V.I. Lenin Collected Works Volume 38: Philosophical Notebooks (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), 357; “For our attitude towards this phenomenon to be a politically conscious one, it must be realised that no natural science and no materialism can hold its own in the struggle against the onslaught of bourgeois ideas and the restoration of the bourgeois world outlook unless it stands on solid philosophical ground. In order to hold his own in this struggle and carry it to a victorious finish, the natural scientist must be a modern materialist, a conscious adherent of the materialism represented by Marx, i.e., he must be a dialectical materialist.” V. I. Lenin, “On the Significance of Militant Materialism,” accessed 24 August 2016, /works/1922 /mar/12.htm; “It must be recognized that the fundamental law of dialectics is the conversion of quantity into quality, for it gives [us] the general formula of all evolutionary processes—of nature as well as of society.” Leon Trotsky, Trotsky's Notebooks, 1933-1935 (New York: Columbia University Press), 88. “For convenience of exposition, I shall deal first with the universality of contradiction and then proceed to the particularity of contradiction. The reason is that the universality of contradiction can be explained more briefly, for it has been widely recognized ever since the materialist-dialectical world outlook was discovered and materialist dialectics applied with outstanding success to analysing many aspects of human history and natural history and to changing many aspects of society and nature (as in the Soviet Union) by the great creators and continuers of Marxism--Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; whereas the particularity of contradiction is still not dearly understood by many comrades, and especially by the dogmatists.” Mao Tse-tung, “On Contradiction,” in Four Essays On Philosophy (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1966), 30.


[31] One example is the early work of Georg Lukács. See, Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1971), 5, 24.


[32] Jorge Larrain, “Ideology,” in Tom Bottomore ed. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 221.


[33] Georgi Plekhanov, “Cant Against Kant or Herr Bernstein’s Will and Testament,” accessed 25 August 2016,


[34] Georgi Plekhanov, “From Idealism to Materialism: Hegel and Left Hegelians — David Friedrich Strauss — The Brothers Bruno and Edgar Bauer — Feuerbach,” accessed 24 August 2016, plekhanov/1917/idealism-materialism/index.htm; “There is one ‘system’, the system of dialectical materialism, which includes both political economy and the scientific explanation of the historical process and much else besides.” Georgi Plekhanov, “On A. Pannekoek’s Pamphlet,” accessed 4 September 2016, https://www.marxists. org/archive/plekhanov/1907/pannekoek.htm; “For him Marxism is a complete philosophy, a general outlook on the universe, a philosophy permeated by a single idea, one and indivisible.” David Riazanov, “Editor’s Preface,” in George Plekhanov, Fundamental Problems of Marxism (New York: International Publishers, 1928), xii.


[35] “In a word, every ideology is historically conditional, but it is unconditionally true that to every scientific ideology (as distinct, for instance, from religious ideology)…” V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Critical Comments On A Reactionary Philosophy (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947), 135; “It must never for a moment lose sight of our ultimate goal, but always carry on propaganda for the proletarian ideology —the theory of scientific socialism, viz., Marxism—guard it against distortion, and develop it further.” V.I. Lenin, “Political Agitation and “The Class Point of View”,” accessed 24 August 2016, lenin/works/1902/feb/01.htm.


[36] In his work Philosophical Arabesques, written in prison in 1937, Bukharin cites The German Ideology repeatedly but in no way engages with its critique of ideology, hence he continues to describe Marxism as an ideology and philosophy: Nikolai Bukharin, Philosophical Arabesques (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005), 113, 124, 138, 210, 353, 375. See also: A Commission of the C.C. of the C.P.S.U. (B), History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) Short Course (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1939); V. Afanasyev, Marxist Philosophy: A Popular Outline (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968); Yu. A. Kharin, Fundamentals of Dialectics (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981); F. V. Konstantinov, ed., The Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982); V. Krapivin, What Is Dialectical Materialism? (Moscow: progress Publishers, 1985); Alexander Spirkin, Fundamentals of Philosophy (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1990).


[37] “This result already implied the possibility of defining the class consciousness of the proletariat, expressed by Marxism, as a scientific ideology. The founder of Marxism themselves did not do this…But with the emergence of the Marxist parties and the spread of the ideas of Marxism its use as a guide in the practical struggle, Marxism actually did turn into a scientific ideology.” V. Z. Kelle, “Ideology as a Phenomenon of Social Consciousness,” in Philosophy in the USSR: Problems of Dialectical Materialism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 261-262.


[38] Frederick Engels, “Preface to the Second Edition (1870),” accessed 24 August 2016, archive/marx/works/1850/peasant-war-germany/ch0a.htm.


[39] “Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.” Frederick Engels, “Engels to Mehring,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Correspondence 1846-1895, A Selection with Commentary and Notes (New York: International Publishers, 1936), 511.


[40] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology: Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), 57.


[41] On the Development of the Monist View of History. In this work Plekhanov revealed his most brilliant side, giving battle to populism chiefly on another field, that of philosophy, and coming out in defence of materialism. It seems to me that many of our modern academic would act more wisely if instead of criticising Plekhanov with a dilettante’s conceit, as the generally do, were to expound and interpret to a rising generation this remarkable book which whole generations of Marxists studied, and from which they learnt to understand the principles of militant materialism.” Grigorii Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party: A Popular Outline (London: New Park Publications, 1973), 43.


[42] Samuel H. Baron, Plekhanov in Russian History and Soviet Historiography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), xiv.


[43] This, of course, may lead one to wonder: What about Lenin? As is clear from Lenin’s writings and practice, despite his formal adherence to “dialectical materialism,” he had a greater grasp of Marx’s method and devoted himself to a systematic study of Hegel unlike Plekhanov. For example, in the fight against Machism, it was Lenin who definitively refuted Bogdanov and Co. and pointed out the errors of Plekhanov in his Materialism and Empirio-criticism. As the late, eminent Soviet philosopher EV Ilyenkov wrote: “Thus until Lenin joined the polemic, to a reader who had not thoroughly investigated the essence of the argument, the situation looked something like this: on the one hand there was the ‘school’ of Plekhanov-Orthodoks-Deborin, who neither knew nor cared to know and apply in politics ‘the methods of exact science’ and who were stubbornly trying to reinforce archaic concepts and fetishes in Marxism which had supposedly been thoroughly refuted by 20th century natural science; an equals sign was placed between Plekhanov’s school as it was thus described and materialist dialectics.” E.V. Ilyenkov, Leninist Dialectics and the Metaphysics of Positivism (London: New Park Publication, 1982), 103-104. In fact, as is best revealed in Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, there was a tension or ambiguity in Lenin’s thought between the position of “dialectical materialism” and Marx’s scientific method. See, Alex Levant, “From the History of Soviet Philosophy: Lukacs – Vygotsky – Ilyenkov (2008) by Sergey Mareev,” Historical Materialism, 19 (3) (2011), 187; Michael Löwy, “From the ‘Logic” of Hegel to the Finland Station in Petrograd,” in Michael Löwy, On Changing the World: Essays in Marxist Political Philosophy, from Karl Marx to Walter Benjamin (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1993), 77-81.



Mansoor Hekmat, an Iranian Marxist

Mansoor Hekmat, an Iranian Marxist and founder of the Worker-Communist parties in Iran and Iraq, developed a very similar critique to the one outlined in this article which is why "ideology" is always decried in the WP tradition. "German Ideology" is as close to a required reading as the WP parties have (although in general they have a very lax tradition in this regard and a very low theoretical level).

I have heard of Mansoor

I have heard of Mansoor Hekmat, but I did not know that he developed a similar position. I am very happy to learn of this. Do you know if any of the writings where Hekmat discusses the critique of ideology have been translated into English?

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet